It really sucks that Irrational Games is shutting down, and I hope that everyone who was laid off finds new employment soon. It's a bad situation, yes, but for gamers, there's something to be optimistic about — a new digital game by Ken Levine.
Levine, an undeniably talented writer best known for his work on BioShock, also had a major hand in Thief and System Shock 2. His games are sometimes controversial, but almost always worth talking about. And it's exciting to see him taking the opportunity to make something risky.
Look carefully at what Levine wrote in today's announcement (bolded emphasis mine):
In time we will announce a new endeavour with a new goal: To make narrative-driven games for the core gamer that are highly replayable. To foster the most direct relationship with our fans possible, we will focus exclusively on content delivered digitally.
When I first contemplated what I wanted to do, it became very clear to me that we were going to need a long period of design. Initially, I thought the only way to build this venture was with a classical startup model, a risk I was prepared to take. But when I talked to Take-Two about the idea, they convinced me that there was no better place to pursue this new chapter than within their walls. After all, they're the ones who believed in and supported BioShock in the first place.
Thanks to Irrational and 2K's passion in developing the games, and the fans who believe in it, BioShock has generated retail revenues of over a half billion dollars and secured an iconic place in gaming. I'm handing the reins of our creation, the BioShock universe, to 2K so our new venture can focus entirely on replayable narrative. If we're lucky, we'll build something half as memorable as BioShock.
In other words, Levine is no longer shackled by the AAA beast that BioShock has become. He's working on a digital narrative game, and he's taking a whole lot of time to make it happen. He's free to be small, flexible, and creative, and if you don't mind a little optimism on a day that's rather sad for a lot of people, I'm excited to see what sort of experiments he has in mind.
Just look at some of the talented designers who have left the world of big-budget game development to play around with narrative games. Gone Home, last year's indie critical darling, was directed by Irrational alumnus Steve Gaynor. Designer Kent Hudson also left AAA to make his fascinating experimental narrative game The Novelist. Lucas Pope left Naughty Dog and made Papers, Please, one of the most important games released in 2013. Adrian Chmielarz moved from Gears of War to an indie horror game that looks pretty damn cool.
So, yeah. I'm psyched to see Ken Levine going off and taking risks. It's way more exciting than the thought of yet another BioShock game. Even if we never do see BioShock Vita.
(Top photo via Flickr)